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HALLOWEEN

How Halloween is celebrated in Germany

It's not just a North American tradition - Halloween is also celebrated in Germany. From the phrases you need to local 'trick-or-treating', a German-American shares what the holiday is like in Berlin.

A carved pumpkin in Gelsenkirchen, North Rhine-Westphalia.
A carved pumpkin in Gelsenkirchen, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Caroline Seidel

Spooky cobwebs coated the windows of my family’s home and candle-lit carved pumpkins glowed in the shadows.

This scene might resemble a house in the US around Halloween, but it actually took place where I grew up in Berlin. 

When I used to go trick-or-treating in Schmargendorf, in the Berlin neighbourhood of Wilmersdorf, I would dress up and have my mom put make-up on my face shortly before it became dark.

After that I would head out for one or two hours with my mom or dad, who were usually dressed up as well. We knew which places to go to and which houses to avoid in order to stock up on candy.

A creative (and gruesome) pumpkin carving in Brandenburg for Halloween 2018. Photo: DPA

How Halloween spread to Germany

Halloween originates from the old Celtic festival of Samhain.

In the evening from October 31st to November 1st, the dead supposedly rose from their graves and attempted to repossess the living.

In order to avoid this, the Celts tried to scare them away or disguise themselves in order to remain unnoticed. This traditional holiday eventually turned into a commercial celebration in America and is nowadays renown worldwide.

The holiday came to Germany at the end of the 90s and is a popular event today. In Germany, the younger generation such as preschoolers and elementary schoolers participate actively.

READ ALSO: The rise and rise of the pumpkin in Germany

Kindergardens, schools and after school care-clubs often join in this event by hosting small parties in class, accompanied by music, snacks and costume-competitions.

For the most part, Halloween costumes are spooky or gruesome, such as a witch or ghost. Children will not usually dress up as a princess for example, because in Germany Halloween is considered a spooky event and “Fasching” (Carnival) is reserved for non-Halloween costumes that are more colourful and joyful – such as clowns. In southern Germany, however, these costumes can take on a scarier appearance.

READ ALSO: Fasching: Tracing the roots of South Germany’s ‘Dark Carnival’

How do you ‘trick-or-treat’ in Germany?

Two children trick-or-treating for candy at an American military base in Stuttgart. Photo DPA

You can either make your own Halloween costumes or buy them in dozens of stores ranging from simple supermarkets to actual costumes shops that sell whole costumes or individual items such as coloured contact lenses or elf ears.

Trick-or-treating, or “Um die Häuser ziehen (Going around the houses)” as the Germans call it, usually takes place in your own neighbourhood with the same intentions as in the US: collecting candy or playing pranks (Streiche spielen).

The German version of the classic Halloween phrase trick-or-treat is “Süßes oder Saures” (Sweets or sours) or, differently phrased, “Süßes sonst gibt’s Saures” “Give me sweets or there will be sour things.”

But some children learn longer phrases and “perform” them in order to earn candy:

“Spinnenfuß und Krötenbein, wir sind viele Geisterlein!”

“Wir haben leere Taschen und wollen was zum Naschen!”

“Spider foot and frog leg, we are many ghosts! We have empty bags and want something to snack”.

These phrases usually rhyme and are a fun thing to recite!

A special scary spot

Trick-or-treaters enjoying a well-decorated Halloween yard in Stuttgart. Photo DPA

In Berlin, it has come to some Germans’ attention that the American sector near Oskar-Helene-Heim is a great place to collect the “good” American candy. These streets are often decorated incredibly scary and the people pass out tons of candy.

In other German neighbourhoods, as I can only speak from my experience, there are only a few houses that actively participate in decorating.

It should also be mentioned, that it is more difficult to decorate visibly from the outside when you live in an apartment story building. Also it’s a bit unclear at the moment how widespread visiting houses will be since we’re still in the pandemic.

But many households carve scary or fun pumpkins and set them outside for everyone to see. This is a good indicator for from which homes you will receive candy and from which not. If you do not wish to participate in Halloween you should turn your lights out; only then you will you not be bothered by the doorbell.

There are fewer Halloween parties than in the US where you dress up and eat gruesome foods, but they are becoming increasingly more popular, especially through Youtube influencers.

They post dozens of videos on how to throw a great Halloween party or how to make a last minute costume which sparks interests in especially young adults.

However, many teenagers and adults do not skip this event but visit parties in clubs, where they dress up, drink and dance.

I never learned a longer phrase to recite but stuck with trick-or-treat or Süßes sonst gibts Saures, because that would do the trick as well. When walking through the streets, we would pass usually younger children with their parents, children in smaller groups, or teenaged boys with Halloween masks on who were only in it for the candy.

A sweet reward

Fun ghost cupcakes for a Halloween dessert. Photo DPA

When I was growing up many people – I could tell – bought their costumes. I, thanks to my mom, had a homemade costume every year.

Most people who had their lights on were prepared to hand out candy and excited to see the spooky costumes. Others would open the door, seemingly haven forgotten about Halloween, and hand out random sweets or fruit that did not excite me very much. (We would try to remember that place and avoid it the next year). 

Others were just annoyed by this event.

Despite those people, it was a fun evening every year. I always returned home with more candy then I could eat. There were times where it literally lasted until Easter!

When I grew older I had the feeling that less people went trick-or-treating and less people were participating in this event, which could be because the neighbourhood was growing older or because people went to areas where there was more candy to collect.

Nowadays, I try to convince my friends to throw a Halloween party with me. Initially, they are never thrilled by the idea because they are not convinced by the dressing up part, but usually I can persuade them by mentioning the Halloween-y food and drinks.

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HALLOWEEN

Events guide: Where to celebrate Halloween in Germany

Everybody scream, everybody scream, here's where to celebrate Halloween in Germany.

Events guide: Where to celebrate Halloween in Germany
Halloween is becoming increasingly popular in Germany. Photo: DPA

More and more Germans are carving pumpkins and putting in their vampire teeth to celebrate Halloween, the holiday which originates from the old Celtic festival Samhain. 

According to folklore, on the evening of October 31st, the dead rose from their graves and attempted to repossess the living. So, the Celts would dress up in order to scare them away, or to disguise themselves so that the dead wouldn't find them.

This traditional pagan festival has since become a commercial celebration in the USA and around the world, with Halloween’s popularity increasing in Germany since the 1990s, especially among the younger generation. 

In Germany, October 31st is also Reformation Day, which celebrates the reformation of the church. The states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia enjoy a public holiday on Reformation Day, meaning their Halloween enthusiasts can spend an entire day “um die Häuser ziehen” (“going around the houses”, how Germans refer to trick-or-treating) – or, sleeping off the hangover from a Halloween party the night before!

As well as going around asking “Süßes oder Saures” (“sweets or sours”, you guessed it – Germany’s way of saying “trick or treat”), there are plenty of events going on in Germany to celebrate spooky season.

READ MORE: How is Halloween celebrated in Germany?

Potsdam 

Take a walk around the Babelsberg Film Studio in Potsdam, the oldest large-scale film studio in the world, where classics such as The Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich was filmed, as well as modern icons such as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.

For the Halloween season, the studio has been kitted out to resemble a real-life horror film, with characters from several classic horror films and some original faces roaming around, waiting to jump out at you. 

As well as photo opportunities with Pinhead and Chucky, several attractions are open such as a live maze, simulator and refreshment stands. 

Just make sure to look over your shoulder, as Pennywise may be behind you…

Darmstadt

Nowhere offers a Halloween atmosphere quite like the Burg Frankenstein near Darmstadt, a 1000 year old castle ruin thought to be the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. 

Since 1977, the Castle has offered a Halloween spectacle, the first of its kind in Germany. Within the castle walls during the Halloween party, there is a panorama restaurant, food and drink stalls, a monster bar, VIP lounge and gift shop. 

Across 12 infamous scare zones, there are 100 monsters lurking including Pennywise, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and beings from the underworld. The three new scare zones for this year are entitled The Clown’s House, Death Zone and Chainsaw. 

This event is certainly not for the faint hearted, though if you’re a thrill seeker who loves a good adrenaline-rush, this is the Halloween party for you.

Berlin 

According to the self-confessed “Home of Halloween”, the historical Berlin Dungeon, there is no better place to be in Berlin to enjoy all things spooky. This year, the Dungeon is putting on a special Halloween show: Will you survive the curse of the witch? 

The belief in witchcraft is rooted deep in both German and wider human history. During the Middle Ages, when science was not advanced enough to explain illness, death or forces of nature, society would often suspect that witchcraft or black magic was behind it.

Visitors to the Dungeon will embark on a 70 minute journey through time between Hackescher Markt to Alexanderplatz, as you are transported to the 16th century, where many witches were believed to have roamed the Berlin streets.

Along the way, you’ll encounter several characters such as a vengeful witch hunter, a helpless farmer and a devilish “white woman”. By the end of the journey, will you survive the gaze of not only the witch, but the fanatical witch hunter?

Günzberg 

For those of you looking for a more family-orientated Halloween event suitable for children this year, why not travel down south to Germany’s Legoland resort in Bavaria?

On the day of Halloween, the resorts offers free entry to children up to age 11 who arrive dressed in a Halloween costume. Though kids won’t be the only ones dressed for the party, as guests will be greeted by park dragon Olli, who will also be in his Halloween costume for the celebrations. 

The resort will offer a special Halloween atmosphere, with ghosts on the loose around the park. Guests are invited to knock on the door of the Trick or Treat House, or to walk through the Spooky Trail, if they are brave enough. 

Ghastly creatures are waiting for you in the park, as well as the world premiere of Grusical in the LEGO Arena, a spooky show exclusive to LEGO Deutschland. This event promises plenty of shudders and laughs for the whole family! 

 

 

Stuttgart 

The gardens of Ludwigsburg Castle is home to a unique, hidden treasure: the world’s largest pumpkin exhibition

It may sound like a niche-market, but even those who aren’t particularly enthusiastic about pumpkins can enjoy the towering sculptures made from 450,000 pumpkins of 6000 varieties. Artists bring to life thousands of pumpkins, with puss in boots, Medusa and a unicorn among many others transforming the park into a fairytale pumpkin kingdom. 

During Halloween, we tend to underestimate what’s inside a pumpkin for the sake of carving its skin. However, this event isn’t short of plenty of pumpkin-based dishes, such as pumpkin soup, pumpkin spaghetti, pumpkin strudel, pumpkin lasagna, pumpkin tart and pumpkin bread. Who knew the classic Halloween fruit could be so versatile? 

Once the event has converted you to a year-round pumpkin fanatic, you can take home a selection of pumpkin jam, pumpkin pesto, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed oil, and pumpkin noodles from the gift shop.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Kürbisausstellung Ludwigsburg (@kuerbisausstellung_ludwigsburg) on Sep 4, 2019 at 3:03am PDT

Lübeck 

For those of you looking for a wilder Halloween party, look no further than Kulturwerft Gollan’s Halloween party in Lübeck. 

What promises to be the biggest Halloween rave in Northern Germany, the main stage theme this year is 1990s Halloween Hell, with a DJ team from Berlin and Charlene playing best pop, dance and rave hits from the 1990s throughout the night. 

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Kulturwerft Gollan (@kulturwerft.gollan.official) on Oct 18, 2019 at 7:41am PDT

Of course, no Halloween party would be without flying bats across the stage. If you don’t fancy a throwback this Thursday, there is also a Bloody Hall, featuring confetti from the glitter canons, with DJs Weidti and HouseKaspeR playing house, EDM and techno music. 

Hosted in a former shipyard, Gollan is the perfect location to compliment the atmosphere of a Halloween rave with multiple themed sound stages. Food and drink is available on-site throughout the night, as well as prizes for the three best Halloween costumes.  

So, get your capes on, and get ready to party the night away! 

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